Grammy award-winning singer Angélique Kidjo will showcase her exceptional musical talent at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center (WHBPAC) on Sunday, August 7. She spoke with Dan’s Papers about her desire to promote a message of understanding and world peace. The Benin-born singer discussed her West African culture and the awareness she hopes to bring to people through her unique and beautiful music.
You just won a Grammy for Best World Music Album this past February at the 58th Annual Grammy Awards. Can you tell us about what this award meant to you?
I was so surprised and proud, but I also felt that I’m just at the tip of the iceberg for African culture. There’s so much music coming from the continent that needs to be discovered in America. So in my speech I paid tribute to the musicians of my continent, and especially the young ones who are so creative. Winning this award was very important to me because I believe music is a powerful tool. I like that music allows me to be the voice of the voiceless. Music has allowed me to be free and fearless.
Where do you find inspiration?
It comes from traditional musicians from my country, and the traditional music from Benin. In Benin, traditional musicians don’t have mics, so they have to sing very loud, and very distinctly. Most of the music of the world has been influenced by African music, so it’s generally very simple for me to make foreign sounds my own. It just magically fits because the songs share the same African fingerprints.
What are some aspects of West African culture that you’d like to share with our readers?
We have so much! People have no idea. For instance, the food in West Africa is amazing! Cooking is a passion of mine. I can cook for hours for friends. My friends from all over the world are all impressed with the great recipes, from gumbo to yassa (a dish with chicken, lemon and onions). When I wrote my memoir, Spirit Rising, I had to devote a section to share my favorite recipes. We also have amazing fabrics, amazing arts and myths. The Yoruba myths of creation are so rich. And West African music is really music of the Americas, and the world. It’s all about how you prevail. West African Music is the music of the survivor.
You’ve been a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador since 2002. What do you enjoy about your work with UNICEF?
Being a UNICEF Ambassador has given me the opportunity to travel all over Africa and meet people from all walks of life. I always spend a lot of time listening to the women of the various countries. I’m trying to relay their message to the rest of the world, but I’m also very grateful for the inspiration they’re giving me. My main focus is girls’ education. I’ve advocated a lot for girls’ education, and I feel that now people are starting to realize how crucial it is for the future of Africa.
What have been some of the most memorable moments in your music career?
So many memories from all over the planet, but the most important element for me is the relationship with the audience. They’re the ones who give me the energy to keep on moving.
You’ll be at the WHBPAC on August 7. What are you looking forward to about performing there?
I’m looking forward to being on the water. I’m a sea girl. The sea is part of me. I don’t come often to Long Island, but the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center must be the place that I have visited the most on Long Island, for sure. I have great memories there. I love its warmth. It’s a small place, but the audience is very enthusiastic. I feel I’m part of the family now.
Angélique Kidjo performs at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center, 76 Main Street, on Sunday, August 7, at 8 p.m. For more info visit whbpac.org or call 631-288-1500.